Iron lady Granger ready to tough it out in Haikou

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am

Australian favourite for today's race

For most people, Belinda Granger's hour-long bike ride and half-hour swim would constitute a good day's workout. But for Granger, who races her 29th ironman today in the first-ever Ironman China, it is merely 'touch-up' training.

Yesterday, on the race site of Haikou, Granger did 20 minutes each of swimming, biking, and running in preparation for today's race - a 3.8km sea swim, a 180km bike ride, and a 42km run, all on Hainan Island.

Though there was a shorter-course triathlon held in 2003, this is the first full-length ironman in China and some 800 participants have registered, including 37 from Hong Kong.

Granger, a 37-year-old Australian, is one of 31 professional athletes entering the race, which also includes men's favourites Petr Vabrousek, Olaf Sabatschus and Park Byung-hoon.

Organisers had been attempting to put together a race since 2003, but were unable to find the right combination of people to see the race through. In 2005, the current group of organisers started work on the event.

'Triathlon is just starting to take off in Asia,' event director Murphy Reinschreiber said. 'We're starting to see an enormous growth curve and the sport is at the point now where a lot of the participants are ready to move up in distance to ironman racing.'

With 22 ironman events that serve as qualifiers for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, this October, Reinschreiber said the race did not secure any of the sport's superstars, but he added there was still a strong international interest from both professional and amateur athletes.

'There is a mystery about China and that helps us draw international athletes here,' Reinschreiber said. 'Hainan is the Hawaii of China, and that's the sort of backdrop that people aspire to in an ironman - the wide-open race course with the palm trees.'

Granger, who won February's Ironman Langkawi and has been racing the ironman distance since 2000, said she had always enjoyed racing in Asia. Having raced the shorter race in 2003, Granger wanted to be part of today's full-length race.

'I've always been to the races in Asia and have had a lot of success in Asia,' said Granger, who spent the last month training in the Philippines. Granger arrived late on Thursday night to the course and decided not to trace the race route prior to the contest. Saying it was added pressure that she did not need, Granger said she instead preferred the 'excitement' of not fully knowing the course.

The course is not expected to be overly hilly or technical and there are no major climbs. Such a design is expected to result in a fast race, although the aftermath of tropical storm Neoguri with its heavy rain, cooler temperatures and harsh winds may pose a great and unpredictable challenge.

Any thoughts of cancelling or postponing the event because of Neoguri were emphatically rejected by Reinschreiber.

'In the history of ironman there has never been a situation that an ironman race has been cancelled,' he said.

'There have been instances where the swim portion has been cancelled or altered, but the race will go ahead in some form.'

Ranked in the world's top 10 in ironman triathlons, Granger is considered the favourite to win the women's race, although others including Germany's Nicole Toepfer and former world champion triathlete Jo King are also expected to make an impression.

Before she left for Haikou, Granger said her coach sat her down and told her that she was the favourite and should everything go her way, she would win.

'I never go into a race thinking it's a done deal because then some unknown or someone else who's having a really good day will walk all over me,' Granger said.

'I don't listen to the hype. On the start line anything can happen.'